It occurred to me while watching Steve Carell and Jon Stewart at the Patron’s Brunch here in Telluride how far they’ve come since the early days of the Daily Show. Since then, Carell has made feature films and became known for The Office. Jon Stewart has added his vital voice to American politics, media and culture. This year, both of them have stepped way outside their comfort zones, risking failure at best, ridicule and loss of reputation at worst. It sounds like a joke they’d make because the last thing either of them wants to do is take credit for being serious artists.
I don’t have an interview with them to present, I simply have a few photos taken at a brunch where the two stood side by side with that look on their faces like “can you believe we are here?” And they probably can’t. It was quite a sight, to be sure.
Stewart comes here as the director of Rosewater, a story he clearly felt strongly about bringing to a wide audience. With humor and sharp truths revealing themselves throughout his reign at the Daily Show it was always clear (at least to me) that there was a lot more to Jon Stewart than meets the eye, and it wasn’t just the brilliant book about America and it wasn’t just the debate with Bill O’Rielly and it wasn’t the countless interviews with guests ranging from trivial to important. Underneath all of that is a desire to help change the world. Perhaps it sounds pretentious to say but what’s wrong with wanting to change the world?
Ideally, Rosewater would be received by audiences as it was intended: a conversation starter about oppressive regimes, torture, and the importance of bearing witness — the power that civilian journalists have to record events they see unfolding before their eyes that they know are wrong. In a perfect world, Rosewater would not have to run the gauntlet as it makes its way to audiences, asking moviegoers to pay to see a movie about a subject many people may not want to confront, truth be told.
It will be Stewart’s charisma — and perhaps a few great reviews — that might make that happen and I can’t help but cheer him on from the sidelines thinking, please help to educate this distracted, brain dead culture. If anyone can do it, Stewart can. He’s done it with his show, and his show’s offshoot, the (Stephen) Colbert Show. He’s done it with a book and now, perhaps he’ll start doing more of it with feature films.
We’re talking about art, of course, and we’re talking about entertainment. Rosewater hits both those targets with moments that are profoundly moving and emotionally affecting. I also wish everyone could have seen the Q&A with Stewart discussed the film with the real life Maziar Bahari in attendance.
Steve Carell comes here with Foxcatcher, which I already saw in Cannes. Here, Carell doesn’t just take a serious turn — he takes a dangerously dark turn playing a creepy real-life murderer. The two films could not be more different, and yet they are somehow linked. When I think about Foxcatcher I think about the 1%, I think about how the fix is in for many of us Americans trying to chase after our American dreams. There are so many dreams in this country, all crowding for space. In Foxcatcher, we get a glimpse into the life of an old-money American who had had his friends bought for him. This is contrasted with the life of a struggling wrestling team of brothers who really had to earn their own success.
Of course plenty of comedians have gone to the dark side to play more serious roles, but Carell is so utterly likable and charming. Seeing him dive so fearlessly into this character is proof that he is indeed a formidable actor, a force to reckon with. Any actor or filmmaker who puts a movie out there for audiences has to face possible rejection at every turn. From the critics, the box office, the studios. But they keep doing it because something in them tells them they must.
Sending a hats off to Mr. Stewart and Mr. Carell for making it this far and taking the crooked roads, letting their freak flags fly and doing it for the sake of doing it, for the sake of trying something new.